Monday, September 12, 2011

Part 5: The Final Chapter in Lucy Jane Lamb Willis’ Life

As happens in most families, a person's life becomes more complex in their later years. This was also true about Lucy Jane Lamb Willis. Lucy had been married for 24 years at the time of her husband John Pinckney Willis’ death. She spent the final segment of her life raising her six youngest children who were born to John and her. This occurred during the next 16 years 1911-1927 when the youngest child Lois left home to marry. In the 1920 U.S. Census Lucy was listed as the head of household, a widow, owned her home, and could read and write. The children living at home were Ludie, age 18, Marvin, age 17, Purley, age 15, Guy, age 13, Alton, age 11, all born in Florida and Lois, age 9, the only child born in Texas. As the children grew into adulthood, they married and most had children of their own. Some remained nearby in east Texas counties, but others moved to different areas of Texas and two of the children, Ola and Alton, returned to Florida.

These are Willis descendants who are married with Streetman and Gray surnames. At the far left on the first row is Richard Lusky Gray, my grandfather, holding their oldest living daughter, Lois Azalee, my aunt. Second from left on the first row is Alice Lucinda Willis Gray, my grandmother, holding their third living child, Cecil Newell Gray,my uncle, and standing to the right of Alice Lucinda is their second living child, my mother, Opal Murriel Gray. I believe the other people in the photograph are Streetman descendants and would appreciate help to identify them.
My grandparents, Alice Lucinda Willis and Richard Lusky, who married in 1913, lived in Anderson, Montgomery, San Jacinto, and Liberty Counties in Texas. They had six children, four of whom lived to adulthood and had families of their own. Their first child was an infant daughter, born and died in 1914; the second child was Lois Azalee born in 1915, who lived until age 95 in 2010. She and husband Ruel Edward David Snow had two sons. Opal Murriel, my mother, was born in 1916, and lived until the age of 88 in 2005. She and husband, Kermit King Hollingsworth, had four children, three daughters and a son. Cecil Newell, born in 1918, lived until the age of 81 in 1999. He and wife, Mary Margaret Moulder had four children, two sons and two daughters. Sherman Lusky, was born in 1922 died in 1927 at the age of 5 in Montgomery County, Texas from tonsillitis. Ava Maxine, currently age 87, was born in 1924 and lives in Virginia with husband Albert William Bill Jones. She and her husband have four children, two daughters and two sons.

This photo was taken about 1955, possibly the last time all the Gray children and grandchildren gathered at our grandparents' home in Cleveland, Texas before one family moved to Oklahoma, one to Arkansas, and one to New York. The fourth family remained in Texas. As you can see, our families continued the pioneer spirit when our families migrated to new locations as the lure of new land or job opportunities arose.

Mary Almira Willis and Ancil Hewitt Streetman who also married in 1913, had four children: R. C., born in 1912 and died in 1969, Cecil Gilbert, born in 1916 and died in 1985; Coy Wilson, born in 1919 and died in 1996, and Floy Elizabeth, born in 1923 and died in 1985. I will leave it to my Streetman cousins to blog and post about their families.

In 1952, Ola and Alton were living in Florida, Lois Inez lived in far west Texas, and the other brothers had passed away. This could have been in Houston, Harris, Texas where Ludie held quite a few family gatherings. 

Sometime in 1919, daughter Ludie Valonia Willis, age 19,  married Rufus Edgar Denson, age 18 possibly in Grapeland, Houston, TX. In 1925, they had son Starling “Starlie” Edgar Denson. In the 1930 U.S. Census the family lived in Dallas, Dallas County, Texas. In 1932 husband Rufus was killed in a truck car accident near Lewisville, Texas.

Rufus Edgar Denson and wife
Ludie Valonia Willis

Son Starlie entered the U.S. Navy in WWII and was killed in action. The information on the American Battles Monument Commission states: Starlie Edgar Denson, Seaman, Second Class, U.S. Navy Service #6254193, United States Naval Reserve entered the service from Texas; died December 1, 1943; missing in action or buried at sea; tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery, Manila, Philippines.

Starling Starlie
Edgar Denson
In 1944 Ludie married William Henry “Harry” Journeay until he passed away in 1953 leaving his spouse and three of his children.  They lived in Houston. Ludie would often visit my grandparents in Cleveland, Texas while we were visiting and my parents would visit great Aunt Ludie in Houston in the 1940s and 1950s.
William Henry "Harry" Journeay and
Ludie Valonia Willis Denson Journeay in 1944

In 1923, sixth child and fourth son Jesse Loyd Willis married Ruth Comer in Gregg County, TX or Gorman, Eastland County, Texas. In 1936, Jesse Loyd Willis passed away in Rule, Haskell County, Texas at the age of 40. He had served as a Methodist Minister for 16 years mostly in the NW Texas Conference of the Methodist Church. His wife Ruth and children Elizabeth F., Loyd Comer, Mildred Louise, and Bruce Lamb Willis survived him.

In 1927, Lucy and John Willis’ oldest child and son, John Joseph Willis passed away in Tyler, Smith County, Texas. He was survived by his wife Ethelinda and children Ethel Avalon, Melba, Odessa, Vera Doris, and Johnnie Rudolph “Rudy” Willis.

John Joseph Willis and Ethelinda Gray Willis

Also in 1927, twelfth child and eighth son Guy Clifford Willis married Thelma Ruth Smith. They had two daughters, Nelda Beth F. born in 1928, who married a Mr. Morton and Lester J. Ross, no available dates, and Billie Ruth Willis with an unknown birth date who married Gale Ray.

Sometime in 1927, fourteenth child and fifth daughter Lois Inez Willis, age 17, married Edwin Spurgeon Payne, age 24. They lived in Montgomery County and later in Shafter, Presidio County, TX. They had one daughter, Melba Juanita, born in 1930. Our family visited them in Shafter.

Sisters Ludie Valonia Denson Journeay
and Lois Inez Willis

In 1928, tenth child and sixth son Marvin Rivey Willis, age 26, married Alice Josepheen Teems, age 22. They had five daughters, Francis Lorene Willis, born in 1929, and Brenda, Jean, Marvaleigh, and Wanda, all with unknown birth dates.

In the 1930 U.S. Census, Lucy Jane lived with her twelfth child and eighth son Guy Clifford Willis and his wife Ruth Willis and their almost 2-year old daughter Nelda. R. C. Streetman, 19-year old son of Mary Almira and Ancil Hewitt Streetman lived there also as a lodger. They lived in Baytown, Harris County, Texas.

In the early 1930s, eleventh child and seventh son Purley Gratan Willis married Alice Willis. They had an infant daughter Willis who was born and died in 1933. A second living child is listed in a different relative’s family tree. On May 17, 1943 Purley Gratan Willis passed away. He died in Fort Worth, Tarrant County, Texas. His occupation was as general superintendent at McMurray Plumbing Company. He was buried at the Ector County Odessa Cemetery in Odessa, Texas as was his infant daughter.

By 1935, thirteenth child and ninth son Alton Jackson Willis, age 35 was married to Ellen Willis, age 21 in Polk County, Florida. Other information has not been documented as of this time.
The Alice Lucinda Willis Gray and Richard Lusky Gray home in Cleveland, Liberty County, Texas was also home to Alice's mother, Lucy Jane Lamb Willis from 1942-1945 when she died. Oldest daughter Lois Azalee Gray Snow helped her parents finance their home in the late 1930s. Other children helped install plumbing in the home in the early 1950s.

In 1942 mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother Lucy Jane Lamb Willis moved for the last time to live with her fifth child and second daughter, Alice Lucinda Willis and husband, Richard Lusky in Cleveland, Liberty County, Texas. She would remain in their home until she passed away. She was buried at Antrim Cemetery next to her husband John Pinckney Willis who had died 34 years earlier.

After becoming a widow, Lucy witnessed the loss of six sons. Thankfully, three sons and all five daughters survived their mother for 18 years or more. Lucy also witnessed the weddings of twelve of her children and the births of many of her grandchildren during her remaining 34 years.

I was told a story about Great-Grandmother Lucy Willis that happened when I was two and three years of age. I was told that I used to rub my Great-Grandmother’s legs while she was in the bed so they would not ache.

Lucy Jane Lamb Willis lived 76 years, 5 months, and 28 days. Her death was on March 14, 1945 at the home of her daughter Alice and Lusky in Cleveland, Liberty County, Texas. She died of nephritis (inflammation of one or both kidneys) and carcinoma of the uterus. Pace Stancil Funeral Home was in charge of the funeral. She was buried at Antrim Cemetery in NW Houston County, Texas next to her husband John Pinckney Willis who died in 1911 and near their son Charles Dewey Willis who died in 1919.

Comments are appreciated who find that Lucy Jane Lamb Willis was an extraordinary woman as I find her to be. I always knew bits and pieces about my heritage and ancestry, but working through this process helps me appreciate that I have learned more. I am a descendant of hard working ancestors who had a great pioneering spirit. They were not satisfied that where they lived was the best place they could be. Lucy and John kept moving on until they found a community and farmland where they could successfully raise their family.

If incorrect dates or incorrect information in the life of Lucy Jane Lamb Willis and her family are noticed, please contact me with a comment and I will be happy to correct them.

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